Industry Insiders: Robert Childs, All Suited Up

When menswear designer Robert Childs first entered the offices of Thom Browne, he was a student at FIT and an intern at Adam Kimmel. He saw himself designing extreme sports ware and didn’t own a suit. “Never once did it cross my mind where I was like, ‘Man, I want to work for Thom Browne,’” says Childs. “It was actually kind of the other way around. I was always telling my friends, ‘I’m in fashion because I never want to wear a suit.’ I just kind of stumbled into it.” Now Childs spends his days overseeing Browne’s meticulously tailored designs, from start to finish: “My job is to help Thom realize the collections from concept to the show. Pretty much anything he needs to get done, I facilitate.” This season, that includes Thom Browne’s much-anticipated first collection for women. Here’s Childs on the new collection, the Thom Browne design process, and his own intriguing story—how he went from community college drop-out to showroom staple.

First interest in fashion: I don’t know when I first got into fashion. I was a junior or a senior in high school and me and my friends were skateboarding, wake boarding, and surfing a lot and doing a bunch of ‘alternative sports.’ I wanted to make clothes we could wear because the clothes that I wanted to buy were never cool enough.

On Plan A: I had the bright idea to go to business school. My friend at the time was moving to Gainesville, Florida and I didn’t apply to any colleges at all. So, I moved to Gainesville and decided to go to community college because my friend had a house up there. I dropped out of because I hated business school. I moved back home and just kept working on what I was doing. My mom’s friend taught me how to sew and I wasn’t very good at it at the time. I was like, “F*** this.” I applied to FIT because I thought I wanted to go right into the fashion end and design.

On his experience at FIT: I got an acceptance letter to FIT, packed up what little things I had, and moved to New York. I was this little guy from Key West moving to New York. It was crazy. Every day waking up and going, “Wow. I’m in New York City.” Went to school for two years. Got an Associates Degree. Learned to sew like a badass. Never once did it cross my mind where I was like, “Man. I want to work for Thom Browne.”

On how he got the job: It was absolutely bizarre. I knocked on the door, walked into this office and everybody turns at me. I’m super casual and everyone is in a suit. Everyone just looks at me and I’m like, “Uh. Uh. I just wanted to speak to the design director or whatever. You know…Is Thom in?” They’re like, “No.” The CFO at the time came up to me and said, “What do you need?” I was like, “I just want to hand you my resume. I work at Adam Kimmel upstairs. I’m looking for a job. I was hoping you could hand this to Thom for me.” And, he said, “Okay. I’ll give it to the design director for you.” The next day or the day after, Thom calls me up and he’s like, “Hey Rob. It’s Thom. I want you to come in for an interview.” I went home and banged out a little project for him. I did like 12 or 15 looks. I brought it in and presented it to him. I was freaking out thinking about what I was going to wear to this interview for the guy who makes the best suits in the world. So, I borrowed a suit from Kimmel. I’ll never forget it. We sat there talking for a long time. I thought it went terribly, but I guess he liked me. The next day he called me and offered me a job. I’m super stoked.

On the day-to-day: My job is to help Thom realize the collections from concept to the show. Pretty much anything he needs to get done, I facilitate. It’s never visual. He doesn’t like us to look at inspirational pictures or anything like that. It’s more of taking from the everyday. We never use color charts. The colors develop as we develop fabrics. Nowadays, we’re developing 90% of all the fabrics we get. I never thought I’d be designing fabrics. Designing accessories and looks from start to finish, anything that he wants. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun.

What he has to offer: What I bring to the table for Thom Browne is very not so Thom Browne which adds a cool mix to it. I get to think a lot more and think outside the box and push myself to think about these crazy, cool concepts that I don’t think I’d ever really think about if I wasn’t working for Thom Browne.

The end-result: It’s so cool to be able to work for five or six months then, though it is really short at the end – that show – it’s like 15 minutes and can make or break your entire six months of work. When, it’s done, it’s like, “Oh. It went so well.”

What to expect in the new women’s line: We’re gonna show in September at Fashion Week. I hope. That’s the plan. I don’t know how much I’m supposed to talk about. It’s gonna be very “Tom Browne for women”. A lot of fabric ideas for men translated to women. We’re also taking some of the more classic men’s fabrics and using them for women. It’s very tailored, but at the same time, trying to make it suit a woman’s body.

Favorite designers (other than Thom Browne, of course): I really like Junya Wantnabe. I’ve always followed what he’s been doing. I think that he a lot of the time really hits the mark. The other guy, Patrik Ervell, is based out of New York… and, Adam Kimmel.

Go-To Places: There’s a place called Five Leaves. Really good food. Been there a couple times and its tasty for sure. There’s another restaurant in the city, Dell’anima. It’s so good. Doughnut Planet for sweets. Then, of course, for a burger, I like to go to Shake Shack. I go when it’s raining. It’s wet, so nobody’s in line.

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